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DID YOU READ

Going Nowhere

Going Nowhere (photo)

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Of the forgotten nonpareils to have been found by DVDing in the neglected, semi-seen recesses of Luis Buñuel’s world-class filmography, none may seem odder than “Death in the Garden” (1956). A semi-Marxist workers’ rebellion drama that segues into a lost-in-the-wilderness survival adventure? Shot in Mexico with a famous French cast (Simone Signoret, Michel Piccoli, Charles Vanel) right in the middle of the filmmaker’s “Mexican period,” during which the world had supposedly forgotten about him? In color? Except it’s not so freakish when you remember he shot a version of “Robinson Crusoe” two years earlier, in color, and that his Mexican films were making it to the Venice and Cannes fests, even before the earthquake of “Viridiana” in 1961.

Thumbnailing a filmography of almost 50 years is never easy or effective, but more to the point is the startling realization of how much Buñuel there is still to see. I count over a dozen Buñuels yet to be released on digital home video in our region (though several are available in French and Japanese editions), and a few that have never been released in any format ever. It goes without saying that theatrical revivals have not been a satisfactory recourse.

To appreciate a hybrid oddity like “Death in the Garden,” first you must toss the epithet “Surrealist”; if Buñuel is the only substantial Surrealist filmmaker, that’s exactly like saying he’s not Surrealist at all but merely Buñuelian. For that we can be thankful — Surrealism on film most often comes off as childish and redundant, and so Buñuel, in his infinite wisdom, modified the aesthetic to fit his sensible and sardonic temperament and circumstances.

The result is a filmography giddily high on the irrationality of ostensibly rational humanity, which Buñuel’s cinematic universe addresses with varying cocktail recipes of jaundice, amusement, dreamy vision and nihilist anthropology. This is why the exhumation of the forgotten movies is vital: you have to embrace the oeuvre’s entire thrust — you have to become a naturalized citizen of Buñuelonia — to grip his greatness. “Death in the Garden” brings us to a far corner of the territories, where Buñuel meets Werner Herzog, plunging into the Mexican jungle (standing in for an unnamed South American craphole where French is the only tongue), and exploring the suffocating wilderness for the difference between it and the domains considered fit for human society.

But we begin in a scrubby mining town, where insurrectionist diamond diggers are staging an overthrow of the local authorities, and where everyone else, from the police to the resident hooker (Signoret), are goldbricking scum. No news there, in terms of Buñuel’s perspective, but Vanel’s naïve miner is considered almost saintly, while Piccoli’s fresh-faced priest, while compromised, is so four-dimensional and flexible in his thinking that he’s not only perhaps the only cleric in Buñuel’s filmography that isn’t a mercenary hypocrite, but he’s also emblematic of Buñuel’s greatest characters, so open-minded and unpredictable and congenial that he’s a stand-in for the auteur himself. (The whole ensemble of “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” even while being mercilessly mocked, are all Buñuel avatars.)

11242009_DeathintheGarden2.jpgPressure in the town rises, riots break out, gunfights (!) and revolutionary street combat ensue. When a lone adventurer (Georges Marchal) wandering through gets framed and Vanel’s hapless schmo gets wounded, the two end up hijacking a boat heading down river, along with Signoret’s irritated tramp, Vanel’s mute daughter (Michèle Girardon) and Piccoli’s optimistic missionary.

Buñuel is no slouch in on-location action staging, by the measure of the 1950s, but the totemic use of the river and the jungle is remarkable, and might be seminal — it cannot help but recall Herzog’s use of location, although it’s entirely unlikely that Herzog, as a Bavarian schoolboy who never saw movies and never used a phone until he was 17, could’ve seen this sketchily available film. (Even Girardon, with her silky hair tangled in the overgrowth, evokes the nobleman’s daughter in “Aguirre,” vanishing into the leaves.) “There are animals all around us, eating each other, and we never see them,” someone groans as the renegades wander in the greenery starving, a plight temporarily redeemed, in a grand stroke, by the discovery of the ruins of a crashed plane, littering the rain forest with inappropriate objects.

Salvation and rosy character arcs are not in the offing, of course, but madness is. “Death in the Garden” — the bitter, Edenic irony of the title stings — is nothing if not a soak in existentialist fatalism, leavened by genre excitement and Buñuel’s fascinated regard for his fellow humanoids. It is also, it should be said, fantastically gorgeous — credit is doled out to cinematographer Jorge Stahl Jr. and to the mastering team, and the movie looks as if it were shot yesterday.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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